Phaedra – Henze – Linbury Theatre – Royal Opera House
Hans Werner Henze died at the age of 86 in 2012. He was a German Atonal Composer and left Germany for Italy in 1953 due to an intolerance toward his left wing politics and homosexuality. He became a member of the Italian communist party and indeed wrote a Requiem in 1968 for Che Guevara and Ho Chi Minh. He even spent a year teaching in Cuba. Whilst his father enrolled him in the Hitler Youth, it was clear that music was his forte and after the Second World War he became a Conductor at the Wiesbaden Staatstheater.
He wrote a number of operas, of which the hallucinatory tragedy Phaedra was his last. It was premiered in Berlin in 2007, just a few years before his death, with a libretto by Christian Lehnert. It deals with Phaedra, whose love for her step-son Hippolyt triggers catastrophe.
The first act is routed in Greece, where all the principals die and the second act is routed in Nemi in Italy, with the hallucinatory rebirth of the principals, including body engineering! This allows for the gradual remoteness of Hippolyt and the journey between the metaphysical tightrope of this world and the next, and the porous divide between living and dead.
In this performance, the stylish and uncluttered production of the Israeli Director, Noa Naamat, is brought to life by the Young Artists of the Royal Opera’s Jette Parker Programme, with Edmund Whitehead conducting the Southbank Sinfonia and designs by Takis and lighting by Lee Curran.
The Atonality of the music was hard in the first Act, but more rounded and accessible toward the end of the second Act, with the orchestra playing on top form. The Jette Parker Young Artists sang proudly on stage, led by the Phaedra of the outstanding Chinese mezzo soprano, Hongni Wu, with the New Zealand tenor, Filipe Manu, as her lover Hippolyt, the American countertenor Patrick Terry as Artemis, the substantial voiced American soprano Jacquelyn Stucker as Aphrodite and Michael Mofidian as the Minotaur – who eventually does sing!
It was a clear performance of Henze’s opera, at times riveting and at times incomprehensible.